The advantages of tracking consumers across devices

Consumers bounce from their work computers to their laptops to their smartphones without hesitation. One minute they’re reading work emails at their desktops and the next they’re doing a little online shopping with their phones during lunch hour. Marketers and advertisers are on the hunt for the perfect way to compile consumer preferences across all devices. They want what has been dubbed “cross-device data,” which could shed light on how consumers use various devices to access content throughout the day.

In digital advertising, data make the world go round. Why? There are a lot of advantages to tracking consumers across devices.

Advantages of tracking consumers

  • Deliver targeted ads to consumers

With cross-device data in hand, advertisers can create and deliver specific ads to consumers on the device a consumer prefers. For example, an advertising company could place an ad for hiking boots on a mobile website that’s specifically targeted toward Bob Smith, who has searched for outdoor gear on his smartphone every afternoon.

  • Increased knowledge of consumer behavior

Advertisers know that consumers use a variety of devices throughout the day, but cross-device data could identify helpful behavior trends. For example, if consumers of a particular brand predominantly make purchases on their smartphones, that’s a behavior advertisers can use to reach their intended audiences.

  • Improved tracking of ad success

With a flood of tech in the hands of consumers, it’s common for someone to see an ad on one device but complete the transaction on another. For example, a consumer could come across an ad for discounted airfare on his laptop at work but complete the purchase on his smartphone at home. If advertisers had access to data that include this kind of “device hopping,” it could help advertisers better track the success of an ad.

How data is being collected

How can marketers and advertisers get their hands on this kind of beneficial data? You might assume that cookies, a common digital tracking method used since the early 1990s, is the answer. However, cookies don’t work well in the cross-device arena.

While tracking methods are still being developed, there are two common options right now:

  • "Deterministic" cross-device tracking

Users are asked to sign into brand websites or apps on each device they use. By signing in on each device, a consumer’s use can be tracked and compiled into usable data. It’s highly accurate and works best for big brands that have a lot of traffic.

  • "Probabilistic" cross-device tracking

Adtech companies compile a massive amount of non-personal data - such as the make and model of a device, operating system information and ad locations - to draw statistical conclusions about consumer preferences and habits. This technique is less invasive and protects the privacy of consumers better than the deterministic method. This method tends to work best for smaller companies.

While the use of multiple devices offers a certain level of convenience for consumers, marketers are now tasked with finding the best way to collect and analyze data to meet the needs of customers. It’s an evolving field in marketing, one that’s sure to grow in the future.